The Betta Edu Saga Reveals Deep Systemic Issues

Suspended Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation, Dr. Betta Edu

By Osita Chidoka

The controversy about the request by the Honourable Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation to the Accountant General, as widely reported, is only a reflection of the systemic failure in our public service. I will point out a few issues while we await the outcome of the investigation.

Before I proceed, it is evident that the Ministerial Retreat did not deal with serious governance issues. I am confident that no one in the retreat presented the case study of Minister Adenike Grange, who was advised to approve payouts for the end of the year. A sterling career suffered extensive damage. If Minister Edu knew of this case, she would have shown more caution in using her red pen.

From publicly available and unverified reports, the Honourable Minister received a memo from Mr. Thalis Olonite Apalowo, National Program Manager, Grants for Vulnerable Group, to approve a request for cash distribution to vulnerable groups in Kogi State on 6 November 2023. On the same day, the Minister approved.

First issue: the program manager ought not to have written to the Hon. Minister directly. The bulk payment of allowances to staff must have been a tradition in the Ministry before now. The Hon. Minister, due to inexperience, pressure, or greed, fell for the organised scam prevalent in the Ministry since the disastrous President Buhari years.

The next day, 7 November 2023, the Permanent Secretary, Abel Olumuyiwa Enitan, an experienced civil servant (from public records, he has been Permanent Secretary since 2018), minuted the approval to the DFA to “process further as approved above.”

Second issue: the Permanent Secretary is the ONLY person in the Ministry who should seek approval from the Minister. Mr Apalowo should have sent the memo to Permanent Secretary Abnitio. He ought to have sent the memo to the internal audit, for audit and compliance, to budget to verify fund availability and then forward it to the Minister for approval.

The internal audit, if not in cahoot, would have flagged the anomalies like air tickets to Kogi and other issues. Mr Enitan’s job is to guide and advise the Hon. Minister. He abdicated responsibility

The Hon. Minister’s letter, if true, to the Accountant General seeking disbursement to private accounts is the ultimate proof of the failure of the bureaucracy led by Mr. Enitan. My initial questions would be: are these companies contractors of the Ministry? Did they go through a procurement process? Are the payments to the companies total payments, mobilisation payments, or payments based on bank bonds?

Procurement process documents should have accompanied the letter to the Accountant General indicating the contractual obligations of the Ministry and the approval of the Ministerial Tenders Board. The payments bore the hallmarks of corruption.

Hon. Ministers have no business with payments, procurements, and human resources issues in the Ministry. The Permanent Secretary is the Chief Accounting Officer of the Ministry and seeks the Minister’s approval when incurring expenditures.

The PS is the single point of contact between the Minister and the bureaucracy. At the same time, the Minister is the point of contact with superior and external organs of government and the public.

The debacle is a clear indication of a government that has not prioritised respect for rules and the training of its appointees. While not peculiar to this administration, but an atmosphere surrounding this givernment, that appears to reward political appointees for providing conduits for cash-for-patronage seems to be deepening the crisis.

The Head of Service should investigate and, if found guilty, sanction the Permanent Secretary, Mr Enitan, and the National Programs Manager, Mr Apalowo, for clear breaches of civil service procedures.

The ICPC should conduct a system audit of the Humanitarian Affairs Ministry to uncover the extent of bulk payments to staff accounts and other irregular payments. If the President is serious about probity this should be done across all MDAs.

The Betta Edu crisis provides a learning opportunity for the government and the bureaucracy.

This saga may be another pointer and confirmation that the state government no be the federal government. The state experience may not be relevant or may even be a disability in running the more sophisticated federal bureaucracy

There are no secrets in the federal government.

Osita Chidoka is a former minister of Aviation

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